NCF Nation: Nila Kasitati

One gauge for uncovering the true contenders as well as the surprise teams in college football might be analyzing offensive line experience.

Heading into 2013, virtually no one viewed Duke as a possible threat in the ACC. But with the third-most career offensive line starts returning in the country, the Blue Devils won their first ACC Coastal Division title.

Of course, offensive line experience doesn’t necessarily guarantee a winning team.

And the lack of it doesn’t preclude success, either.

Baylor ranked 98th nationally in offensive line experience last year and wound up winning its first Big 12 title. Oklahoma State ranked 109th and won 10 games.

Yet examining an offensive line’s experience can be a useful indicator in determining how a team might fare.

Michigan State was ninth in career offensive line starts going into last season and won the Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl. Florida State was one spot behind the Spartans and captured the national title.

No team, actually, entered 2013 with more offensive line starts than Texas, which led the nation with 124. For all their issues elsewhere, which included losing starting QB David Ash for the year, the Longhorns still had a chance to win the Big 12 on the final day of the regular season.

Underscoring the strength of its veteran offensive line, Texas ranked third in the Big 12 in rushing and second in fewest sacks allowed.

This year, Oklahoma is the Big 12 leader in career offensive line starts coming back, and one reason why many people are picking the Sooners to open in the top 5 of the polls.

Guard Adam Shead and tackle Daryl Williams are entering their third seasons as starters. Oklahoma also will be returning guard Tyler Evans, who, before tearing his knee twice in successive years, was a three-year starter. Tackle Tyrus Thompson and guard Nila Kasitati also have a lot of starting experience, and round out what could be Oklahoma’s most imposing offensive line since 2008.

The team with the second-most returning starts up front in the league? That's Iowa State.

Because of injuries, the Cyclones had to use nine different starting offensive line combinations last season. But now, they return 87 career starts along the line, including six players with at least eight career starts. Four year-starting center Tom Farniok leads the way with 35 career starts. He joins Texas center Dominic Espinosa and Kansas State center B.J. Finney as the only three offensive linemen in the Big 12 with at least 30 career starts; Espinosa and Finney both have 39.

Below is a breakdown of career offensive line starts returning across the entire league, from most to least:

Oklahoma: 107

Tyler Evans 29, Adam Shead 28, Daryl Williams 24, Tyrus Thompson 16, Nila Kasitati 7, Ty Darlington 1, Dionte Savage 1, Derek Farniok 1

Iowa State: 87

Tom Farniok 35, Jacob Gannon 12 ,Brock Dagel 11, Oni Omoile 9, Jamison Lalk 8, Daniel Burton 8 ,Ben Loth 2, Jacob Dunning 1, Ben Boesen 1

Texas Tech: 75

Le'Raven Clark 26, Jared Kaster 13, Rashad Fortenberry 13, Alfredo Morales 13, James Polk 7, Baylen Brown 3

Kansas State: 70

B.J. Finney 39, Cody Whitehair 25, Boston Stiverson 6

Baylor: 64

Spencer Drango 22, Troy Baker 15, Desmine Hilliard 13, Blake Muir 12 (Hawaii), Pat Colbert 2

TCU: 57

Aviante Collins 22, Joey Hunt 13, Tayo Fabuluje 12, Halapoulivaati Vaitai 7, Jamelle Naff 2, Patrick Morris 1

Texas: 49

Dominic Espinosa 39, Kennedy Estelle 8, Sedrick Flowers 1, Kent Perkins 1

West Virginia: 45

Quinton Spain 26, Mark Glowinski 12, Marquis Lucas 4, Tyler Orlosky 3

Oklahoma State: 38

Daniel Koenig 22, Chris Grisbhy 8, Brandon Garrett 4, Devin Davis 2, Zac Veatch 1, Paul Lewis 1

Kansas: 34

Ngalu Fusimalohi 12, Mike Smithburg 8, Pat Lewandowski 6, Damon Martin 5, Zach Fondal 3

Some thoughts on All-Access with OU

August, 24, 2011
8/24/11
2:30
PM ET
The premiere of the hour-long special following Oklahoma's fall camp, "Hard Knocks" style, was last night on ESPN. I hope you checked it out.

It was pretty fantastic.

Miss it? Here's the re-air schedule.

Off to a few thoughts:
  • I really enjoyed all the segments regarding Austin Box, a senior linebacker who died back on May 19. There's no doubt how much he meant to this team. It was written all over each player's face during the scene in the team chapel during camp when they players were re-shown the video that was first shown at Box's funeral back in his hometown in Enid. I was at the church on that emotional day, and 50 of Box's teammates were, too.
  • In a lot of those segments, you got a sense of what this team means to Travis Lewis, and what Box meant to Lewis. One of Box's teammates that wasn't at his funeral was Lewis, who told me at Big 12 Media Days last month that he just couldn't do it. Lewis, of course, isn't going to delve into what exactly that means with the media, but with his teammates? You saw part of it in his speech when he took the podium in front of the team, and Lewis showed exactly why he's this team's leader. That kind of presence? You just can't replace it. Lewis will be around, but he won't be on the field for awhile for Oklahoma. The show gave fans a look at what that means. Being a good leader and isn't about being the loudest or the funniest. Lewis is often both. But being a true leader is about competing and setting an example, and communicating to your teammates. Lewis does both, and you saw just how easily it came to him when he injected meaning into the team's new tradition of breaking down huddles with a "12" chant. All Lewis did was speak from his heart, and the result was a short, profoundly powerful words. "When Travis speaks, people listen," linebacker Corey Nelson said. Now you know why.
  • On to less serious things: Kenny Stills' hair needs its own show. Outstanding. Just when you thought there was no trail left to blaze on the Mohawk front, Stills takes it a step further. Keep that mane flowing all season, sir.
  • True freshman offensive lineman Nila Kasitati stole the show early with his Haka dance. His hometown of Euless, Texas, a suburb of Dallas, has a high Pacific Islander population, and Kasitati brought some of that flavor to Norman. Pretty awesome. The Sooners say they're not perfecting it, but I'd love to see them bust it out before a big game this fall.
  • Small thing here, but take note: The cold tubs early in the show that Oklahoma has? Chalk that up to great facilities. I've seen other programs across the league that simply use big metal tubs filled with ice. The Sooners' setup looked quite a bit more high tech.
  • Great stuff from Stoops, throughout. He's got a personality, but us media types rarely get to see it. If the cameras are around long enough, I suppose it comes out eventually. Stoops introducing us to his dogs and talking about his kids' relationships with his players showed one facet of his personality, contrasted with the fiery personality he shows with his players on the practice field. We don't get to see either of those very often. A nice look inside. His tour around his office was good, too.
  • Lane Johnson: Take that Bob Stoops impression on the road. You'll make millions. Stoops peeking his head in to ask "What's going on over here?" was by far the funniest part of the show.
  • Outside of lots of contact scored by speed metal, it was tough to tell who was doing what in the Oklahoma drill, but Corey Nelson looked like he was eating up a few running backs.

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